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The Evolution of the Power Suit

Posted on 31 May 2016

Emma Watson - Power Suit

The term ‘power suit’ evokes images of large shoulder pads, strong women and exaggerated angels, yet it is not easy to define. From classic styles to cutting edge designs we’re going to explore the evolution of the power suit through the decades.

The Chanel Suit


So where did this fashion revolution start? We owe much of it (like many things) to Coco Chanel. By designing the now iconic Chanel suit she freed women from a life squeezed into restrictive corsets. The Chanel suit began its reign as a wool-jersey cardigan style jacket with bold black trim, iconic gold buttons and pockets (which were revolutionary at the time) worn with a simple, straight knee length skirt.

Katherine Hepburn - Power Suit
1930s and 40s

During the 1930s/40s, Hollywood starlets inspired women to think differently about fashion and led the way for women to experiment more openly with style and carve out their own fashion identity. Marlene Dietrich and Katherine Hepburn pioneered sartorial menswear for women in pinstripe ensembles, classic shirt and tie combinations or even full tuxedos.

1960s Power Suit

The dawn of mod culture opened up new fashion avenues previously unexplored. Boundaries were broken and hem lines rose, with the suit moving along with the tide. The ladylike style of the decades before morphed into cool, boxy jackets with bracelet length sleeves and a micro mini a-line skirt. Sharp monochrome pallets with daring pops of colours empowered a new generation of women to go out and make their mark on the world.

Working Girl (1988)

The power dressing movement in the 1980s changed the game for the power suit. The costumes of films and television of the time such as ‘Working Girl’ and ‘Dynasty’ heavily influenced the popularity of power suits during this decade. Showing powerful women, powerful suits, big hair and big ideas, these movies set a standard for the working women of the time.

However, the power suit of the 1980s was designed to ignore a woman's shape and heavily implied that femininity should be concealed so it didn't hinder a woman’s mobility as she worked her way up the corporate ladder. As we moved through the 1990s and into the new millennium the likes of Madonna revolutionised the masculine suit by pairing it with a conical corset, both designed by Jean Paul Gaultier, whilst on stage and ushered in a new era of femininity and empowerment.

The Girl From Panama Blog
The New Power Suit

The power suit is dead, long live the power suit

The new power suit embraces colour; from delicate pastels to bright pops of neon. Prints and patterns and unusual fabrics. There has been a shift within the fashion industry. Women are no longer trying to emulate masculinity by wearing a traditional black trouser suit. Women are confident and trailblazing; deciding for themselves what is appropriate work wear and reinventing high fashion trends for the office.

Sarah Bond Night Rider Jacket & Giger Sailor Pants

Above: Sarah Bond Night Rider Jacket & Giger Sailor Pants

Christina Binkley of The Wall Street Journal writes, “The matched crimson suit—once deemed essential for a female executive—reflected an era when women tried, often clumsily, to fit into male moulds. There was also a militant element to that office apparel.” She wrote of her days working in the 1980s when she was informed by a boss that only the “secretaries” wore dresses. Women can now wear (within reason) whatever they wish in the office.

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